Student Graduating at Commencement

Transforming the World One Scholar at a Time

The American University Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholar (FDDS) program has opened a world of possibilities for College of Arts and Sciences student Isaiah Washington. 

Washington, a sophomore majoring in literature with a minor in political science, is passionate about working at the intersections of journalism, law, and public policy. Increasing literacy, amplifying voices that have been silenced by rhetoric, and becoming a leader and mentor are just a few of his goals. “In our world, we can feel so limited by what we see and what we don’t see,” said Washington. “FDDS opens up the world, showing us what we can achieve and building our confidence along the way.” 

Isaiah Washington, CAS/BA '23

Since 2010, AU has named more than 30 Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholars—students with rare talent, creative ability, and extraordinary drive. As the university’s preeminent merit-based scholarship, scholars are awarded full tuition, mandatory fees, books, metro passes, room, and board.

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Bequest intention to support future generations of FDDS students
Martina Bradford, CAS/BA ’73

“Our program is small but mighty,” said faculty director Dolen Perkins-Valdez. Only five students a year are selected out of as many as 800 applicants. “These are future leaders, scholars who want to give back to their communities.” With social justice at its heart, the FDDS program is designed to nurture socially responsible leaders across all disciplines.

Beyond allowing students to graduate without debt, FDDS provides a holistic mentoring model, matching faculty fellows and staff with each scholar. “We offer master classes and support for every aspect of their education, from research to transformational applications of social responsibility,” said Perkins-Valdez. “We ask the hard questions—like how do we forge an awareness of culture and diversity while accomplishing professional goals?”  

Thanks to FDDS, Washington is free to dig deeper into campus life, writing for The Blackprint, a student publication for minority voices. As student media board co-chair, he supervises all 10 AU student media organizations. Washington is also a teaching assistant and mentors first-year AU Honors students as well as young men of color through the Youth Leadership Academy Greater Washington. 

 “There’s a Frederick Douglass quote I really love," he said. “'I prayed for 20 years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.' Words need actions." 

For Perkins-Valdez, working with these scholars is a constant learning experience. “This is one of the most observant and engaged generations I’ve ever worked with,” she said. “They hear, they listen and they notice. They ask questions that need answers, which puts us all in the moment of learning.”

Through the Change Can't Wait Campaign, donors can invest in distinctive programs like FDDS that build and nurture a passionate, talented student body.